A dressage test is a performance done by a horse and rider. There is a prescribed pattern during which the rider and horse perform certain movements. A judge with the benefit of a scribe scores each movement, makes comments, and at the end the scores are tallied and the winner is chosen numerically.
A writing contest is a performance by the writer and their manuscript. There are certain prescribed rules and conditions required for entry. Several judges score particular elements, hopefully write comments and the points are tallied to choose the finalists.
In both cases, writing and riding, someone evaluates your performance against a standard. They give you a grade, write encouraging or discouraging remarks, and the results are determined by the numbers.
At the dressage show the winners receive accolades along with a blue ribbon and at the end of the day everyone loads in their horse trailer and heads home with their eyes set on the next performance.
Writers receive acknowledgment on facebook or through web announcements. They might be awarded a a banner to use with social media. And they think about the next contest.
In both cases, winning or losing quickly becomes yesterday’s news when everyone sets their eyes on future competitions.
If winning a dressage test or writing contest doesn’t significantly elevate your status or give you the desired contracts or contacts you hope for, what is the benefit to competing?
The value is in the comments or feed back that is on your score sheet.
In the show arena a judge has a different perspective of the horse’s performance than the person sitting on its back. In writing, a person who is not in your mind sees your work from different view point. The long distance view makes it possible to see things we miss or assume we are doing well.
The smart dressage rider studies her score sheet for things she can practice to improve with her horse before the next competition. Perhaps the 20 meter circle she made at C actually looked more like an egg than a circle. Maybe her horse didn’t actually swing through it’s back at the free walk. Or maybe that trip down center line toward the judge was more like a country and western line dance. The comments are indications of things that might do well with improvement before the next competition. A smart rider will use these comments not only to improve their horse for the next competition but also to improve their riding skill.
In a writing contest the judges’ comments also reveal strengths and weaknesses. Did you hook the reader? Did the judge want to continue reading? Did they understand where your story took place? Were the characters interesting? Do you have a handle on grammar? A smart writer will use the comments from a writing contest not only to improve their story but also to improve their writing skills.
Both types of judging, writing and dressage, are subjective. That means they are based on someone’s opinion of what we did that day or with that word count. Opinions are not always correct, so it’s up to the writer and the rider to chose which comments to consider. Not all subjective evaluation is gospel, but if we consistently receive the same comment from multiple people, a wise person might chose to take a closer look.
Both writing and riding take a huge effort. They take years to learn to do well and they take a continual effort toward improvement. No one will ever know everything in either venue. There’s always more to learn. Both activities require education, introspection, preparation and hard work.
The biggest difference is that in dressage you are on the back of a horse in the fresh air—this writer’s definition of the closest thing to heaven on earth.
For fun I’ve included a video of the beautiful Spanish stallion, Fuego XII, and his rider performing the epitome of dressage, the Grand Prix musical freestyle. This is the result of hours upon hours of work and study. It’s the equivalent of making it to the New York Times Best Sell List for horses. Isn’t Fuego XII Gorgeous?
Barbara Ellin Fox
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